I've mentioned shopping services a few times now, without really clarifying what they are - it's one of those things most lolita fashion followers just assume everyone knows about!
A shopping service is pretty much what it sounds like: someone who will buy things for you and then ship your purchases to wherever they need to go. Obviously, this is incredibly handy for lolitas who live outside Japan, especially since many brands do not yet ship internationally. In addition, shopping services aimed at the lolita market may offer other services, such as:
- Reserves: for popular items and special prints, brands offer their customers a chance to "reserve" or pre-purchase items before they are released. This can sometimes be your only way to get highly desirable prints, colors or cuts of certain items. Reservations can be a complicated process, so the shopping service which can do this well is highly regarded (and often very busy).
- Auctions: mbok and Yahoo Japan are bustling markets for second-hand lolita clothing, but it's difficult to get an account on either if you're not inside the country, and many sellers will not ship outside Japan anyway. A good auction service will bid on your behalf, ask questions of the seller, resolve any problems which arise with your item (like checking for stains and damage) and handle shipping the item overseas once the auction is won.
- In-person shopping for specific, hard-to-find items: Resale shops like Fairy Angel and Closet Child only list a fraction of their inventory online. The matching socks for your new dress may no longer be listed on the website, but you've heard there are still some on the shelves at smaller shops. A few shopping services will actually go look in person for you, with the understanding that if they find and buy the item you've requested, you're on the hook to repay them. This is a lot of work, and many shopping services will not do this at all, or only for selected customers.
Of course, shopping services don't do all this for free! Most of them charge a flat fee based on the cost of your items, between 5% to 20% depending on various factors, plus additional costs like shipping, packaging, transportation and more. Specialized services like reserves or in-store hunting for rare items generally come with a higher fee.
The added benefit, for Japanese lolitas doing all this brand shopping, is getting to rack up loyalty points and earn status as a brand VIP. Most Japanese brands offer special perks to their most loyal customers (a.k.a. high spenders), and it's easy to rack up points towards free items, special party invites, and so on by running even a small shopping service.
If you're interested in knowing more about how a shopping service works and the effort involved, Kalamari Kastle has agreat interview with Chibi_Tenshi, who runs a highly respected and well-reviewed operation.
My personal experiences have been with Celga (Yahoo Japan auctions, okay service but the fees were a little high) and Japonica Market (Yahoo Japan & Mbok auctions, my preferred service due to their reasonable fees and great customer service).